In our next spotlight, we chat to Daniel Watts of Elephant In The Room and Hull Fringe about his inspirations, the deaf and disabled community in his hometown, and more.
W] What inspired you to set up your work, originally?
What inspired me to start up Elephant In The Room (EiTR) is that I was born Deaf and I have struggled for many years to access events. One key lesson I learned as a child is to not accept no as an answer and to stand up for my independence. As a result I resolved to see what difficulties people and venues have had. It boiled down to cost, no communication between venues + disabled communities and the lack of information.
As a result of setting up EiTR, Mike Fuller of the Freedom Flame invited me to join the Hull Fringe 2017 committee with the same vision as I have for EiTR – to create an environment where the public and the artists are able to take part of events without being left behind. Accessibility becomes the norm and is done without a second thought. The Hull Fringe consists of me, Mike, Jon Richard Nelson, Jayney Wright (Founder of Springboard, Cottingham) and Sam Donaldson.
W] What are your goals for this year?
Currently, my goal for this year is to establish a community where people actively talk and feel that they can reach out to each other such without feeling that they are a hindrance. EiTR is still relatively new, it has featured on BBC Radio Humberside, been in discussion with 3 major entertainment venues about accessibility and I am hoping to influence some of the major acts who are coming to Hull to consider making their acts more accessible in the way that Adam Hills sometimes does using British Sign Language Performance Signer.
As for the Hull Fringe, I want to see the Fringe firmly established and provide opportunities for local bands who would normally not be given a chance locally. The CoC (City of Culture) has taken a lot of attention away from the Fringes of the city into the city centre which means opportunities for local bands to perform has been reduced because businesses cannot afford to hire them.
W] What’s been a highlight for you since you started out?
My highlight of the year as EiTR has been able to connect a wheelchair user with a venue so she was able to enjoy seeing SOiL when they visited Hull. The venue bent backwards to make sure she could join in the concert which I also attended.
The Hull Fringe launched this year and our first gig was amazing. The turnout was higher than I expected, the line up was amazing and even featured the surprise appearance of a Hull Actor called Jon Campling. He is well known amongst the Harry Potter fans as the Deatheater who stopped the train in the Deathly Hallows pt 1 film. I am quite excited about 2017, we have more gigs lined in the coming months. We have been invited by Jayney to present the Hull Fringe on the opening night of Springboard in Cottingham on 26th May 2017 which is quite a coup for us considering Springboard is a music festival that has been running for many years.
W] What motivates you about being based in Hull?
Hull is an amazing place, so much creativity and the friendliness is legendary. Everyone I have spoken to whether it is as EiTR or the Hull Fringe have come across very open to the idea of working together. There has yet to be anyone who has said “No” to anything. I expected that disability would be a barrier when people talk to me or when it is mentioned but no, it has not proven to be a barrier and this makes me proud to be from Hull.
W] Do you think accessibility issues are being addressed well in the city?
I do feel accessibility is an issue that needs to be worked on in Hull just like the rest of the country. The number of accessible events in Hull has increased since the City of Culture (CoC) started. There is still a lot to do because once the CoC moves on the money will go with it and this may see the progress made reversed. This is why I joined the CoC access group to try to influence the direction that accessible events happen. Not enough is done for wheelchair users to keep them with their friends or families at events, blind users are often offered Audio Descriptive or Braille when sometimes sitting closer can make all the difference as being called Blind does not mean you cannot see at all. There are various issues that need improving on to become more inclusive and there is no one simple answer to resolve this.
As part of the Hull Fringe, it is part of our core values to establish a legacy of accessible events and one method we are using is to award a “positive” Fringe logo which indicates an accessible event. I have also created an accessibility guide based on various sources to assist venues. Any profits we make would go into a pot with which we intend to create a repository of equipment to lend out to venues more accessible. We are by no means perfect and we want to improve.
W] What are some of the biggest challenges you face day-to-day, personally and professionally as well?
Personally, since I have had my Borg…I mean Cochlear Implant implanted 6 years ago, I have had to go through the process of learning to listen again and it is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. It is balanced by the fact that I have this amazing feature which allows me to hear the full range of sounds when listening to music (and the annoying tweeting of birds..the flying kind!!) and am able to bluetooth music directly into my head.
Professionally, my day to day job does not have any public contact except via social media. Since I created EiTR and joined the Hull Fringe…things are different. Communicating with groups of people can be difficult. Receptively, if I’m at a meeting it’s hard for me to understand the flow of conversation, especially if people are talking passionately. I struggle to follow when people are talking over each other. Also when I am giving a speech (which I will be doing this Friday) I have to make sure that I speak clearly, and that I am easily understood. I am lucky in that I don’t have a pronounced Deaf accent, but there are some words which I find difficult to wrap my tongue around. I have to stop for a moment to think about how I’m going to phrase something in order to give the clearest message.